Ohio State Position-by-Position 2022 Preview: Cornerbacks
The Big Ten Conference will look a little different come the 2024 season with UCLA and USC announcing Thursday they’ll soon join the conference.
But before the Bruins and Trojans enter the fray, the Buckeyes have their attention on the 2022 campaign.
Last season, Ohio State’s defense ranked No. 9 in the conference and allowed 246.2 passing yards per game, which ranked third-worst in the Big Ten.
The secondary has been an area of concern for several seasons, prompting head coach Ryan Day and Ohio State to turn over its defensive staff this offseason. Safeties coach Perry Eliano departed Cincinnati and cornerbacks and secondary coach Tim Walton left the Jacksonville Jaguars to join the Buckeyes in January, replacing Matt Barnes and Kerry Coombs who’d previously coached the secondary.
Sophomore Denzel Burke capitalized on early playing time and turned it into a season in which he earned Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America. He led all Buckeye cornerbacks with 36 tackles, and his 12 pass break ups ranked second in the conference.
Burke will look for a running mate to step up as the No. 2 cornerback, and he may need to search no further than Cameron Brown. The senior cornerback will return to Ohio State for his fifth season, boasting 40 tackles and an interception to his name, including a career-high eight passes defended.
Next up in the Position Previews series in advance of the Buckeyes’ 2022 season is the cornerbacks room, where second-year players are expected to command the spotlight.
A glance at Ohio State’s cornerbacks room
Here are the cornerbacks listed on Ohio State’s roster:
Senior Cameron Brown
Freshman Jyaire Brown
Sophomore Denzel Burke
Sophomore Jordan Hancock
Redshirt freshman Jakailin Johnson
Sophomore Cameron Kittle
Sophomore Andrew Moore
Freshman Ryan Turner
Burke headlines a young group of cornerbacks within the Buckeyes’ cornerbacks room. Hancock and Johnson had successful springs during which the defensive coaching staff spoke of the flashes the two made.
The freshmen duo of Jyaire Brown and Turner will be interesting to watch as the two four-star recruits now don scarlet and gray. Both enrolled early and experienced a full spring practice schedule.
Kittle and Moore are both walk-on cornerbacks who provide depth and intriguing athleticism. A three-year starting quarterback in high school, Kittle was an All-Ohio selection while Moore ran an array of relays on the track, including 4x400-meter relays and even participating in long jump.
Who are the returning starters?
Burke made an impact as a freshman in 2021, and is prime for a bigger 2022 in his second season as one of Ohio State’s starting cornerbacks.
Coming out of the gate and collecting 10 tackles in his first three games, Burke properly introduced himself as a regular with a 23-yard pick-six at Rutgers in Week 5. He earned Third Team All-Big Ten honors as one of the top cornerbacks in the conference.
One cornerback to watch in 2022 is the returning Cameron Brown, who opted to spend a fifth season at Ohio State. He received an honorable mention during the postseason awards from the conference following a season in which he recorded the second-most passes defended on the team.
Brown's experience gives him an edge with four seasons of playing time in the Big Ten, and perhaps one more productive season could see him benefit at the professional level.
Three keys to remember
The secondary coaching staff is brand new
New coaches mean new ideas, and that could mean new results for Ohio State’s secondary.
Walton returns to the Buckeyes, this time coaching the position group he once was part of from 1990-93. With over two decades of coaching experience, he spent the last 11 seasons in the NFL and the previous three in the same position with the Jaguars.
Reception among Walton and Ohio State’s new defensive coaches has been positive, as players have taken a liking to the experience and coaching styles in the room. The changes also have yielded favorable results on the recruiting trail, and Ohio State landed three cornerback commitments since Monday.
It remains to be seen if Walton and the new defensive coaches hit the ground running. Ohio State has held opponents to a season average less than 245 passing yards per game just once since 2018, so Day and the Buckeyes may be looking for results sooner rather than later.
Interceptions are the Buckeyes' forte
Often with a stout defensive line in front of them, opposing teams have gotten the better of Ohio State's secondary in recent seasons.
But it's hard for opponents to compete against the Buckeyes once they snag an interception.
Ohio State returned 12 interceptions for 306 yards last season, which is a mark near the top in all of college football. Safety Ronnie Hickman and cornerback Ryan Watts, who transferred to Texas in December 2021, tied for the team lead with two interceptions apiece.
Burke and Brown accounted for both picks made by Buckeye cornerbacks who'll return in 2022, coming during a stretch in which Ohio State had an interception in six of seven games.
The Buckeyes have recorded at least 11 interceptions in four of the last five seasons, and had seven in 2020, which tied for fifth in the Big Ten.
Burke ranks near the best in the Big Ten
The breakout season enjoyed by Burke in 2021 saw his name near the top of several statistical categories.
Burke's 12 passes defended placed him within the top-20 nationally, and he was one of 15 cornerbacks to have at least a dozen passes broken up in addition to an interception.
According to Pro Football Focus College, Burke also played the most coverage snaps without allowing a touchdown among cornerbacks in the Big Ten. He's enforced the notion that he can be an intelligent ballhawk, giving opposing wideouts a challenge on the outside.
Having a role all but solidified, the Arizona native will expect more to come in 2022. If he builds on his successful debut, Burke could set himself up for an interesting Year 2.
Two questions for the room
How does Walton adjust back to the college level?
Spending more than the last decade at the highest level of football, Walton moved north to his alma mater after the Buckeyes made sweeping coaching changes.
Referred to as “one of the best DB coaches, if not the best DB coach” by five-time Pro Bowler Jalen Ramsey, Walton will bring more NFL coaching experience to the cornerbacks room much like previous Coombs did when he coached at the Tennessee Titans.
Despite allowing the ninth-most passing yards per game, Ohio State’s 12 interceptions were the fifth-most in the Big Ten last season. Walton caught 10 interceptions during his Buckeye career, and the team grabbed pick-sixes in three consecutive games in 2021, showing an ability to find the football.
Walton also coached with the Detroit Lions, New York Giants and St. Louis Rams at the NFL level and at four stops in the college ranks. The Buckeyes hope his breadth of experience can apply in their cornerbacks room.
Walton showcased tackling drills and different cornerbacks concepts during spring practices. He and Ohio State have said teaching fundamentals can lead to greater results, and that’s what the Buckeyes hope for from one of their own now coaching on their staff.
Which underclassmen take the step forward?
Hancock and Johnson are two to watch for breakout sophomore seasons.
Both standing over 6-foot and seasoned with one year in the Ohio State cornerbacks room, the two former four-stars will have a chance at a greater snap count in 2022.
Hancock played in seven games last season, making four tackles and one pass break up. He played in each of the final three games of last season, making a tackle in both.
Sidelined by injury after one game, Johnson missed most of his debut season due to shoulder injury. He participated in Ohio State’s spring practices, and will be set to perform in the preseason in competition for reps.
It’s a good idea to not rule out Jyaire Brown and Turner, either, after the impact Burke made in Year 1.
One prediction for the 2022 season
Ohio State has two All-American cornerbacks
Burke could repeat national honors in 2022.
But who could be a second All-American cornerback on Ohio State’s roster? The last time the Buckeyes had two First Team All-Big Ten cornerbacks came in 2012, according to the team media guide.
That player could be Cameron Brown.
Going back for one more year and completing a career that’s dealt with injuries, Cameron Brown could put everything together at the right time.
He overcame an Achilles tear that kept him out for most of the 2020 season, returning to the field in 2021. Cameron Brown made five starts during the regular season, including games against then-No. 7 Michigan State and then-No. 5 Michigan.
His seven pass break ups were behind only Burke last season, and he played in all 14 games during his sophomore season in 2019. Cameron Brown could elevate his game to a new standard in 2022, and may be the counterpart for Burke that creates a formidable cornerbacks room at Ohio State.